Wounded but not sunk. Show must go on. Can’t wait to return to the squad. –French star half back Antoine Dupont after his facial fracture

By Roger Childs

The four best in two groups

In a policy that defies belief the rankings for the current Rugby World Cup are based on performances in the last tournament contested in 2019. There are 20 teams playing this year in four groups of five. They are presently playing round-robin rugby and two from each group will qualify for the quarter-finals.

Based on four years ago, the current top teams are in two groups – Ireland, South Africa, France and the All Blacks.  The latter two played at the Parc de Princes in Paris in the first match with the home team winning comfortably, and then Ireland and South Africa met last Saturday.

Number one plays number two

This was a match that should have been the final. Nevertheless, both teams will qualify for the quarters-finals. It was a thriller played at the Parc de Princes in front of 80,000 fans which included huge contingents of Irish and South African fans. The Irish won the game 13-8 but the result was in doubt until the very end when the Springboks just failed to score from a lineout drive starting ten metres out from the goal-line. 

Both teams defended solidly and this was reflected in the number of tries – just one each. In the set pieces South Africa had the better of the scrums often shunting the Irish back. The latter also had problems with their early lineouts and bungled three of their first four. but after that didn’t lose one. The Irish probably won more turnovers but generally the battle in the loose was an even contest.

Bundee Aki

In the backs both sides had some good attacking moves and only fierce tackling prevented more tries bring scored. Ireland’s second five Bundee Aki was the most dangerous player in the first half and Springbok fullback Damien Williamse was the dominant back in the second.

In the end the difference was in the goal kicking; Ireland scored from a conversion and two penalties while South Africa missed four shots at goal – a conversion and three penalties.

Controversial ending

New Zealand and Kapiti rugby referee, Ben O’Keefe, performed well almost to the end. With time up South Africa had a lineout 10 metres out and predictably took the ball and drove for the line. They were held up short and it looked suspiciously like the Irish collapsed the maul. 

Such as offence would normally warrant a penalty try, but O’Keefe wasn’t interested. Instead, as the ball was just coming out on the Springbok side he gave the advantage to  Ireland and blew full-time. Not a good look for the Kiwi referee.

Where to now?

South Africa and Ireland will advance to the quarters and probably meet France and New Zealand respectively. So the four currently ranked top teams will be reduced to two for the semis. 

Host team France has lost their star half back and captain Antoine Dupont, who sustained a facial fracture in the team’s 96-0 romp over Namibia. He had surgery in Toulouse on Friday but there has been no announcement on when he will be able to play again. The quarter finals are in three weeks’ time. Could the brilliant Dupont be ready to take the field? Time will tell.

Some commentators are now writing France off as potential World Cup winners, but although Dupont would be a great loss, a team is more than one player.

Meanwhile, the All Blacks face Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley’s capable Italians on Friday, a game New Zealand must win to stay in the tournament.